The Rolex Explorer made its bones when Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest wearing the watch. Only that didn’t happen. Eddie left his Oyster Perpetual at base camp and ascended Everest wearing a Smith’s. Rolex created the Explorer name to commemorate Hillary’s triumph. Does that matter? It does if you’re looking for Rolex’s most exploration-ready timepiece. News flash: the Explorer ain’t it . . .
The Rolex Submariner dives 200m deeper. The Rolex Milgauss is more resistant to magnetic interference. Rolex’s chronographs provide the split-second timing Indiana Jones wannabes need to avoid rolling boulders. The Explorer does not. If your adventure into the great unknown requires a Rolex with the greatest possible accuracy or the longest possible power reserve, nope. Not it.
Hang on. Why would an explorer wear an Explorer? (Erling Kagge didn’t.) A quartz-driven, solar-powered Citizen Promaster Tough costs less than a Rolex presentation box and it’s way tougher than any mechanical watch Rolex can cook-up. A G-SHOCK will also take more of a licking and keep on ticking than a Rolex – and it’ll give you a weather report.
Let’s face it: the Rolex Explorer’s best judged as a luxury sports watch, rather than a timepiece survivalist Bear Grylls might wear while lunching on moose heart. As such (a luxury sports watch, not a moose heart), the Rolex Explorer has a lot to recommend it. Especially if you like shiny watches.
While some tout the Explorer as the subtle Rolex, that oxymoronic honor belongs to the Oyster Perpetual 39. In bright light, the Explorer says I’M A ROLEX with about as much reserve as comedian Sam Kineson. Thanks to its high-polished steel top ring and the stainless steel framing its Arabic numbers and hour markers, a well-lit Explorer is glinty AF.
In diffused light, the Rolex Explorer is as classy as a Yamaha Baby Grand. The Darth Vader-esque dial gives the watch gravitas. In its new-for-2016 39mm size, the Explorer is a serious piece. It announces its presence with a swaggerless confidence that its blingier brethren can’t beat. Yes, even the sightly less expensive, not dissimilar but busier Rolex Air King.
It’s a different story on the flipside. You could say the Explorer’s unadorned caseback fits the Explorer’s Explorer-as-explorer branding, clocking the perfectly machined teeth surrounding the screwdown cap. I say it looks unfinished.
When the day’s finished, when the lights go out, the Explorer lumes large. Its Chromalight-filled indices and follow-the-revolving-ball second hand are to low-light legibility what Rolex caliber 3132 is to mechanical accuracy. And that’s saying something.
The Explorer’s a Rolex Superlative Chronometer; before it hits the road, the watch must pass both Switzerland’s and the corporate mothership’s certification processes. Rolex’s in-house testing protocol ensures that outward bound Explorers don’t gain or lose more than two seconds a day (don’t you hate it when that happens?).
Fastidiously fashioned from high-quality parts – including a Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorber – the Explorer’s built to maintain that accuracy until its ten-year service interval. Sorry, its first ten-year service interval.
The Rolex Explorer’s also built to be more comfortable than Hugh Hefner’s pipe and slippers. Which isn’t very difficult given how pipe smokers and misogynists are treated these days. So let’s try that again.
Slipping on the Explorer’s Oystersteel bracelet is like slipping into a warm bath. In Vegas. After winning a million dollars. Feeling the bracelet’s silken heft, snicking its solid steel clasp home, flicking the safety gate closed, never gets old.
If you’ve ever wondered why luxury watch buyers value weighty wristwear after the dawn of titanium timepieces, it’s because they’ve worn a Rolex. The 4.7 ounce Explorer feels like a machine on your wrist. You never forget you’re wearing it, but it ain’t heavy, it’s your brother. Dependable. Resolute. Steadfast. Rock solid. OK, that doesn’t describe my brothers, but you get the picture.
After something of a wait, you can get a box fresh Rolex Explorer for $6550 plus tax. At that price point, there are plenty of options, including superb Omegas and less expensive Tudor timepieces. None of them have the Explorer’s gestalt. The Explorer may not be a watch for exploring more than Netflix or a local eatery, but it is that. True grit? Not so much. True character? Absolutely.
Case: Oystersteel monobloc, screw-down case back and winding crown
Diameter: 39 mm
Crystal: Scratch-resistant sapphire
Bracelet: Oystersteel flat three-piece links
Clasp: Folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Easylink 5mm comfort extension link
Movement: Rolex Perpetual caliber 3132, mechanical, self-winding
Accuracy: -2/+2 sec/day, after casing
Functions: Center hour, minute and seconds hacking hands.
Power reserve: Approximately 48 hours
Luminescence: Rolex Chromalight, blue lume
Water-resistance: Twinlock double waterproof system to 100 meters/330 feet
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Design * * * * *
The bigger, bolder Explorer makes the grade as an elegant sports/dress watch.
Legibility * * * * *
All the readability of a three-hander, with the extra punch of steel-framed Arabic numbers and indices and a stubby Cathedral-style hour hand.
Tactility * * * * *
Sex on a bracelet.
Comfort * * * * *
A heavy old thing, but Oystersteel for the win.
Overall * * * * *
A beautifully made, endlessly satisfying “entry level” Rolex. To quote Steely Dan, no regrets, no remorse.